E-mail Writing

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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One reason good e-mail writing can be tricky is the relative newness of the medium. The fact that e-mail has only been around, at least in the form we know it, for about 10 years means that a set code of rules and etiquette hasn't developed--at least not to the extent it has for letter writing, phone conversations, and in-person meetings. Those rules that have come to govern our electronic correspondence seem to change as frequently as microprocessing speeds and browser versions.

Still, most people implicitly understand the rules of e-mail writing, if only from spending years and years communicating in other ways. The most important thing is that your particular e-mail be suitable for its occasion and audience. There are times for jocular and breezy notes, other times for formality, and occasions for humility. There are also audiences who are well practiced at e-mail writing as well as some who are wholly new to it. Your job is to suss out these specifics as accurately as you can, then draft a message to fit.

A Few Rules about E-mail Writing

Regardless of what kind of e-mail writing you're doing, you should always include a few standard items. One is a specific subject line that alerts your recipient about the nature of your note. If you're addressing several points in one message, you may wish to title your subject "A Few Points About..." or "New Policies Regarding..." If you're following up on an interview, and the person you're writing may not remember you from among 50 others, be sure to write "Follow-Up From...." in your subject field.

Another rule about e-mail writing is to include the original text of the message you're addressing. There are few things more confounding than receiving a reply to an e-mail you've written and having no idea what the response relates to. Both you and your recipient may send and receive 100 e-mails in the course of a day, so it's considered good e-mail etiquette to excerpt the salient passage (no need to include the whole thing) and paste it into the e-mail you're writing.

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